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Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page P01


Permission to Drive

Planning to rent a car in Italy? CoGo's advice: Buy an International DrivingPermit before leaving home.

The requirement has technically been in effect since last summer, but rental car companies are "easing into this new law," so some may require an IDP and some won't, said Cosmo Frasca of the Italian Government Tourist Board. However, he recommends that Americans not count on lax enforcement since the requirement is "pretty much mandatory" for all foreigners except those from EU countries.

Only two organizations are authorized by the U.S. State Department to issue an IDP: AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (through the National Automobile Club). Show up at one of their offices with your state-issued license, $10 and two passport-size photographs to get a permit good for one year.

Beware: Do not confuse an IDP with an IDL, or International Driving License. Numerous companies offer IDLs on the Web. Those that promise that an IDL will substitute for a suspended state license are scams. Others are legit, but are simply translating your current license. A translation is required in a handful of countries, but you're better off with an IDP, good in more than 150 countries.

Unfortunately, there is no single source for finding up-to-date information on license requirements around the world. A study provided by AAA reveals a hodgepodge of rules. India, for example, requires an IDP. Brazil requires either an IDP or a notarized translation of your license. The government of Bolivia doesn't require an IDP, but car rental companies there do. Then there are places like Hungary, where a foreign license is acceptable if it "conforms with the model in Annex 9 of the 1949 Convention or Annex 6 of the 1968 Convention." Right.

If in doubt, check with the consulate of the country you are visiting and your car rental company -- or just get the IDP. For AAA: 800-763-9900, www.aaa.com. For the National Automobile Club: 650-294-7000, www.thenac.com; click on "Int'l Travel Documents."

security watch

FedEx Your Zippo

Smokers, stop carrying on: Cigarette lighters will be confiscated at airline security checkpoints as of Feb. 15. You'll still be allowed to pack lighters in checked baggage, and so far at least, there are no rules against carrying matches on board.

The good news is that more U.S. airports are making provisions to mail small items confiscated in security lines. A private vendor set up self-service kiosks at Dulles last month that allow you to swipe your credit card to pay for everything necessary to mail items that can fit through a slot the size of a postal box. BWI has stamp machines next to regular mailboxes, and also has stands with FedEx materials. At both airports, however, you have to give up your place in the security line to mail your stuff.

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